April 19, 2009

Favorite Critters From the Monster Manual II (1983)

Continuing on, let’s take a look at some more monsters. Flipping through this book again, I was actually shocked just how many great creatures are on offer here. It really makes the 4e Monster Manuals looks rather sterile in comparison. Instead of a bunch of bloodied and shift powers, we get a whole range of special spell-like abilities and attacks. Call me a grognard, but this book has aged well.

That said, the MM II was a dumping ground (in the best sense) for the best creatures from various classic modules. Some modules—S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City in particular—brought a host of enduring creatures to the game (you can thank the named modules for the aboleth, behir, and yuan-ti, among others). This makes selected my top ten really difficult … it’s like picking the top 10 Beatles songs, there’s just too many. Anyway, let’s give it a go…

My selections in alphabetical order:

1. Aboleth

These critters scream H.P. Lovecraft to me. They are totally alien in nature and weird—exactly the non-humanoid sort of creature that are perfect for underground romps when you are tired of using the Drow.

2. Behir

I love these guys. Love ‘em. The Erol Otus illustration on the cover of the aforementioned S4 is probably one of his best, and it sold this creature for me. It was a happy day when I got a behir figure in a random figure pack; by weird coincidence I got an identical figure as a birthday present that same day, so woe to the party that explores my dungeon one day and runs into a mated pair of these dangerous, unique monsters!

3. Bodak

Deadly, deadly, deadly. Forgive the dreadful MM II illustration. I love the simple background: “A bodak is a human who was changed to a monster after venturing somewhere upon the Abyssal Planes where mortals were not meant to be.” Stupid mortals!

4. Cave Fisher

Cave fishers make for great set pieces and scenes, allowing a DM to add a fear of heights or three-dimensional tactical element to combat as fishers on high underground ledges haul up hapless adventurers. Of such things are great stories made.

5. Cloaker

Again, here is an alien monstrosity with a cool set of attacks: envelop while holding off assistance with a swinging tail club.

6. Derro/Duergar

These evil small folk are flip sides of the same coin, yet very different. Both serve as a nice balance to the Drow. The elaborate weapon tactics of the derro are the sort of thing you rarely see detailed today in RPGs, and they help to set the race apart. Later editions focused strongly on the derro’s inherent trait for madness, which was a fine addition.

7. Dracolisk

I’m not huge fan of hybrids, as they usually strike me as unfair DM creation meant to kill adventurers. This and Gygax’s greater basilisk (in this same tome) were clearly designed as PC  killers—the greater basilisk has a pertrifying gaze plus poison gas breath, for crying out loud!—but I always liked this particular hybrid for some reason.

8. Gibbering Mouther

Totally bizarre and Lovecraftian, with a cool set of special abilities. Always a challenge to fight.

9. Russet mold/Vegepygmies           

Not only do vegepygmies represent a unique life form, but if you, as an adventurer, are careless you can become one. They were a great addition to S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and a monster that didn’t strike me as a humanoid you could reason with.

10. Yuan- Ti

To me, these snakemen evoke that primitive fear of reptiles—cold, unemotional creatures that will simply consume you if needed. The yuan ti, in my view, evoke the pulpy Conan stories of Robert E. Howard and they are a great villain for those out-of-way places, such as desert cities and similar locales.

So those are my personal favorites? What are yours?

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